Sue Macy is the author of numerous award-winning nonfiction books,including A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (Puffin 1995) and most recently, Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly (National Geographic 2009).
Enjoy these insights she shares about the research and writing process.
Passion behind the Project
The reason I write about sports, women’s history, and women’s sports history, is that I grew up loving sports. I graduated from high school the week before Title IX was passed, so I didn’t have opportunities to play in school, like girls do today. I played at camp, on the street, and with my father and my brother.
The passion I felt for baseball definitely propelled me to the topic of the all-American girls’ professional baseball league. I was a huge baseball fan as a kid, yet I never knew that women played professional baseball. When I found out about it in a book written in the ‘70s, I was astonished. I was angry that I didn’t know about this league.
I really felt inspired and a personal connection with these women who played the game, in part because I was a frustrated baseball player. At one point, I was better than my brother, but he got to be in Little League and I didn’t.
As I wrote A Whole New Ball Game, I would listen to audio-taped interviews with the former players, and I would feel like I was in the warmth of the bosom of their experience. It was such an all-encompassing feeling to be able to share and reflect on their lives. I definitely felt, and still feel today, a passion for them.
Home Runs of Research
I find that while I’m doing my research, the books I’m writing change direction a lot, depending on what I find and discover. Perhaps it’s the emphasis of what I choose to focus on that changes the most. Take, for example, my book about Nellie Bly called Bylines. Originally, I wasn’t focused on Nellie’s life after her heyday. I knew that she got married in the 1890s to a much older man, and basically stopped writing for a while. Then he died, and she inherited his factory.
As a writer, Nellie Bly had always been concerned with social welfare. As I considered her new profession as a businesswoman, I began to wonder how this social concern would look. Turns out she had a gym and gave turkeys to people for the holidays! All of these things that we think of in the late 20th century as being advances in how to treat employees, she did back then. As I discovered these aspects of her life, I chose to explore more of her life after her years as a journalist, and it helped to make the biography much more well-rounded and complete.
Playing the Next Game
After I wrote my first book about the all-American girls’ professional baseball league, I wanted to follow up with another sports book. So, I started researching the history of women in sports, and I basically made this huge outline of all these quirky events and the larger themes: roller derby and women’s tennis and things like that.
When I looked at this outline, I initially thought, “Somewhere in here there’s a book.” And then I stepped back and said, “Wait a minute. This outline is a book that tells the story of women in sports in the United States.” And that became Winning Ways (Henry Holt 1996). And then again, in Winning Ways there are hundreds of topics that could become books…
Questions for encouraging students to explore their own inquiry process:
- What do you enjoy so much that you might like to investigate it?
- Since research can take so many different directions, how do you decide which path to follow?
- Look at a book that you’re reading and ask if there might be questions within the book that you’d like to research.
This post was originally published as an article in Carin Bringelson and Nick Glass’ monthly column for School Library Monthly.